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THEATER REVIEW Hazel: A Musical Maid in America
by Scott C. Morgan
2016-04-13

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Book: Lissa Levin; Music: Ron Abel; Lyrics: Chuck Steffan. At: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury

Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets: 630-530-0111 or www.drurylanetheatre.com; $45-$60. Runs through: May 29

Actress Klea Blackhurst is a lovable treasure. From her first chatty entrance, Blackhurst has adoring audiences in the palm of her hand as she embodies the title character of Hazel: A Musical Maid in America.

That's right: Ted Key's Saturday Evening Post comic from the 1940 and the TV sitcom that starred Shirley Booth from the 1960s is now singing out in a world-premiere run at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. Unfortunately, the script and songs need to be thoroughly revised and reimagined before Hazel can even think of trying to clean up on Broadway.

That's a pity because the Hazel cast and production design team assembled by Emmy Award-winning director/choreographer Joshua Bergasse ( Smash ) are all so top-notch. You also get a sense that the audience wants to love this expanded stage realization of a beloved sitcom character; however, the busy material keeps letting them down.

Hazel's book, by former sitcom writer/producer Lissa Levin ( Cheers, Mad About You ), delivers plenty of laughs, for sure. But there's just too much going on plot-wise for this 1960s origin story of how the busybody Hazel came to work for the Baxter family.

There's a UFO sighting captured on film by the quirky Baxter kid Harold ( Casey Lyons ), a marriage proposal from the wacky TV inventor/pitchman Bonkers Johnson ( Ed Kross ) and even social commentary on women facing opposition joining the workforce in the spousal fight between George and Dorothy Baxter ( Ken Clark and Summer Naomi Smart ). That's a lot of balls to juggle, and Levin doesn't satisfactorily keep them all aloft for enough dramatic tension or a cohesive conclusion.

Hazel's score by composer/orchestrator Ron Abel and lyricist Chuck Steffan certainly has the right jazzy ring of the swinging 1960s. But often the songs feel like interruptions to the plot rather than furthering it along. Abel and Steffan's choice of who gets to sing is also questionable, especially with a whole number given to the investigative Project Blue Book Air Force Agency that keeps audiences away from Hazel's amusing machinations for far too long.

Blackhurst may be the best thing about Hazel, although there are other delights, too. Bergasse's design-firm dance for Dorothy Baxter called "Sheer Perfection" is a fitting homage to Funny Face's "Think Pink" number. Harold's kid friends are also fun as played by Ava Morse, Rowan Moxley and Tyler Martin—though one boy's fixation on Meghan Murphy's no-nonsense military administrator is a tad creepy.

What ultimately disappoints about this Hazel musical is that there's so much potential for greatness that goes unfulfilled. Hopefully other regional theaters will give the authors another crack at fixing the material—but only if Blackhurst gets to win over audiences as Hazel once again.


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